“The Jolly Green Giants”

  “From the valley of the Jolly…Ho, Ho, Ho…Green Giant”

  This popular advertising jingle for canned green beans from the mid-1960s became a regular rallying cry at Parkview High School for one of the most successful three-year runs in state basketball history. From the fall of 1963 to the spring of 1966, the Parkview “Jolly Green Giants”—as the team became affectionately known—went 81-4 and won the 1965 Class L state championship, while finishing runner-up in both 1964 and 1966. The Jolly Green Giants simply overwhelmed teams with a combination of athleticism, sound fundamentals, and depth, as the Parkview roster was stocked full of players who would earn All-State honors throughout the dominating three-year run.

  The run of success was keyed by the man in charge of the team, Bill Harding, whose first season at Parkview was the 1962-63 campaign. “Coach Harding set the tempo and the attitude,” said Virgle Fredrick, one of two players to play on all three of the Jolly Green Giant teams. “He was a fierce competitor. He was absolutely able to get the most out of every player.”

  “Harding was, of course, an excellent coach,” said Gail Fredrick, Virgle’s older brother who played all three of his varsity seasons at Parkview under Harding’s tutelage. “He not only taught us fundamentals, but he pushed us as individuals. His practices were often three hours long. He made sure he pushed us. He would use whatever technique was necessary to get the most out of us. He demanded a lot out of us. If we didn’t give full effort and do the job right, we knew we weren’t going to play.”

  “He (Harding) was a disciplinarian with everyone,” said Larry O’Reilly, a member of the 1963-64 Jolly Green Giants squad. “He taught fundamentals that you don’t see today. We were really good basketball players, but our fundamentals were exceptional.”

  Harding deflected any praise for his teams’ accomplishments to his players, though. “When I went to Parkview, I laid out my philosophy and idea of what a program should be,” said Harding, who currently resides in Nixa. “It was based on being good citizens, good people, hard work, and fundamentals. The young men bought into it, and we began to assemble what we thought would make us a winner.” Harding guided the Vikings to a 22-5 record his first season, setting the stage and laying the groundwork for the run of success to come.

  The 1963-64 season was one of big change—at Parkview and in the area. Glendale High School opened its doors for the first time, and welcomed some former Parkview players through its doors in the process. However, Parkview welcomed O’Reilly to its school and team that year, as well. O’Reilly, who had led the city in scoring while a junior at St. Agnes (now Springfield Catholic), had lived in the Parkview district his entire life, and now would be joining forces with players he had grown up playing basketball with on area playgrounds.

  “It was tough to leave St. Agnes, but going to Parkview was a little bit like a homecoming,” said O’Reilly. “Coach Harding took the talent we had and blended a team together. For example, I was left-handed and could consistently knock down a 10- to 15-foot jump shot. Coach Harding created an offense around my addition to the team. My skills complemented everyone else’s skills. That team had great chemistry, the best of any team I’d been around.”

Parkview's John Weston rises for a shot in a regular season game from the Vikings' 1965 27-1 state championship year. (Photo courtesy of Parkview High School)

  The 1963-64 team finished 27-2, with an average margin of victory of 21 points. The Vikings lost in the championship game of the Tournament of Champions to Joplin, which was a major player in high school boys basketball in the mid-1960s. Parkview played Joplin a total of five times during the 1963-64 season, and won the other four match-ups, two of which were for Blue & Gold and Regional championships.

  After the early season loss to Joplin, Parkview rolled through Ozark Conference play undefeated at 10-0. It was during this dominating stretch that Marty Edelman, the longtime sportswriter at the News-Leader, first referred to the team in print as the Jolly Green Giants. “It was a combination of things,” said Gail Fredrick, a starter for the first two Jolly Green Giant teams and an All-State performer for the 1965 state titlists. “Our warm-ups were green on top and bottom. Plus, we were a pretty good sized team. We had a tall starting five, and our bench was pretty tall, too. The nickname kind of stuck with us throughout that season (1963-64) and the following years.”

  The 1963-64 team rolled through the state playoffs behind a starting five that featured 1st-team All-Stater Steve Grace and Steve Cash at guard, and O’Reilly, Gail Fredrick and Jim McAlear (an honorable mention All-State player) along the frontline. The Vikings entered the semifinals of the state tournament with a 26-1 record, where Parkview would face top-ranked Maplewood-Richmond Heights at Washington University Fieldhouse in St. Louis.

  “Maplewood was big, strong, and very physical, and had mowed down everyone all season,” said O’Reilly. Parkview played a strong first half, though, and jumped out to a 16-point lead at halftime. In the halftime locker room, though, Coach Harding was less than pleased, and perhaps a bit too into the game. “Coach Harding starts in on us about missing screens and blocking out,” said O’Reilly. “I said, ‘Well, Coach, we’re up by 16 points.’ Coach Harding said, ‘No, we’re not. We’re up six points.’ He then turned to an assistant coach, who confirmed that we were actually up by 16 points. He had gotten so into the game that he didn’t realize we were up by 16.” Parkview would go on to dispose of Maplewood by a 71-64 score, advancing to the state championship game to face St. Louis Bishop DuBourg, which had upset second-ranked Kansas City Central in the other semifinal.

  Bishop DuBourg rode an all-time performance by seven-footer Rich Niemann to a shocking 62-52 upset of Parkview in the state championship game. Niemann, who would go on to star at St. Louis University and later play four years in the NBA and ABA, scored 40 points in the state championship game, after averaging 26.48 points per game during the regular season. To the members of the Jolly Green Giants, though, the sting of defeat and the sands of time have caused the point total to grow to legendary status in the years since the disappointing defeat.

  “He (Niemann) could have closed his eyes and hit a shot from anywhere on the court,” remembered Virgle Fredrick, who recalled Niemann scoring 40 points. “He was just unconscious.” Gail Fredrick concurred with his younger brother, saying, “We simply had no answer for him.” O’Reilly, who recalled Niemann scoring 43 points in the game, remembers a visit by John Bennington—the St. Louis University men’s basketball coach at the time—to Parkview’s somber post-game locker room. “Coach Bennington came in and told us that we had played a great game, and that he had scouted Niemann since junior high,” said O’Reilly. “He told us that that was, by far, the best game he’s ever played in his life. He (Niemann) was just unconscious. The basket must have looked like a swimming pool to him.” Coach Harding, though, blamed himself for Niemann’s scoring outburst. “I’ve always called it bad coaching on my part that we let a 7’2” center get 52 points in the final.”

  The upset loss ended Parkview’s season at 27-2, and provided motivation for a state championship run the following year. “It definitely motivated us,” said Gail Fredrick, who still resides in Springfield and is a partner with the law firm of Fredrick, Rogers & Vaughn, P.C. “First, it gave us a taste of being in the final game playing for a state championship. Finishing second was not acceptable. It gave us motivation to work hard the next season.”

  Parkview had to replace four starters from the state runner-up team, with Gail Fredrick the lone returning starter. However, the Vikings’ bench in 1963-64 was loaded with talent ready to step-up into more prominent roles in time for the 1964-65 season. In fact, the depth on the Jolly Green Giants was seemingly endless, which meant daily battles in practice. “We had good players, and backed up behind them, we had more good players,” said Harding. “The second unit was very strong, and sometimes in practice they would handle the first team, so you can imagine what kind of practices we had.”

  “We had such tremendous depth throughout the line-up,” said Virgle Fredrick, who now resides in Mansfield, Texas. “The guys who came in off the bench had tremendous talent. Most of them could have started for other teams in the area. Some of our best battles occurred every day in practice.” Once again, the Fredrick brothers concur. “Our second team was very good, very talented,” said Gail Fredrick. “They pushed us hard every day in practice. Frankly, our second team would have been one of the strongest teams around.”

  O’Reilly recalled the competitive practices, as well as the techniques Harding used in practice to better prepare his team for actual games. “You’d better be just as ready to play in practice as you were in a game,” he said. O’Reilly recalled one of Coach Harding’s favorite rebounding drills, which required placing a ring around the basket to force missed shots. “We had to block someone out,” said O’Reilly, who is a former President and Chief Operating Officer and current Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of his family-owned O’Reilly Auto Parts. “It didn’t matter where we were on the court. When the ball went up and bounced off the rim, we had to put an elbow in someone’s gut and square it around. We had to do it the right way. Those drills were just brutal.”

  Parkview opened the 1964-65 season with four wins before the Vikings suffered their first loss at Ft. Smith, Ark., which would go on to win the Arkansas state championship that season. “They held the ball on us,” said Harding of Ft. Smith’s deliberate, pre-shot clock offense. “We were not as good at playing a slow game as we were playing fast. We just couldn’t get the ball from them. It was good coaching on their part.”

  The loss merely served as added motivation for the remainder of the season. The Jolly Green Giants began piling up wins in the regular season, which included a perfect Ozark Conference record, a victory over Glendale to capture the Tournament of Champions, and a 51-45 overtime victory over small-school power Buffalo to win the Blue & Gold Tournament.

  Parkview unleashed its devastating full-court press on opponents, which resulted in easy basket after easy basket. The Vikings brought wave after wave of fresh players in off their talented bench. “We did everything that was necessary to win ballgames,” said Harding. “We pressed full court, we pressed half court. It was an up-and-down game that we tried to press you into.” Once again, O’Reilly remembered how Harding’s practices prepared his teams for games. “We used to run full court practices,” he said. “Coach Harding would run the JV kids in and out against the starters, so that we were constantly facing fresh opposition. It certainly made the games easier.”

Parkview's John Weston shoots over a Maplewood-Richmond Heights defender in the 1964 state semifinals. (Photo courtesy of Parkview High School)

  The Vikings used their smothering press to mount leads and then knew when to attack and when to hold off while protecting those leads in the fourth quarter. “If we got a lead at any point in the fourth quarter, we had young men who knew when to go after you and when to pull it back out,” said Harding. “We didn’t lose many leads. In fact, we didn’t lose any.”

  Parkview finished the regular season with only the loss at Ft. Smith, although the Vikings survived some Ozark Conference battles along the way. “Our toughest competition was right there in the Ozark Conference,” said Virgle Fredrick of teams like Springfield Central, Glendale and Joplin. “Once we got out of our conference, things got a lot easier. A couple of teams in our conference could have won State that year if they could have just gotten by us.”

  The Jolly Green Giants entered the Sectional round of the 1964-65 state tournament with a 23-1 record, where the Vikings faced off against a familiar opponent in Glendale at McDonald Arena. “Our biggest worry was the local teams,” said Harding. “Glendale just played the stuffing out of us in the Sectional. Once we got away from Springfield, things got easier for us.” Parkview won the hard-fought game over Glendale by a 47-38 count, and advanced to the state quarterfinals, where the Vikings defeated Columbia Hickman 61-40 to return to the Final Four at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis.

  After a 59-38 semifinal win over St. Louis Southwest, the Jolly Green Giants claimed the 1965 Class L state championship with a dominating 67-50 victory over previously-undefeated Kansas City Center, which featured high school All-American Bruce Sloan. “Gail Fredrick handled him,” said Harding of Sloan, who would later star at the University of Kansas. “Gail always guarded the other team’s best player. It didn’t matter if the other player was a guard, forward or center.”

  The Jolly Green Giants ended the 1964-65 campaign with a 27-1 record and the Class L state championship, which remains Parkview’s only state championship in boys basketball. Gail Fredrick and John Weston were both named 1st-team All-State and to the All-Tournament team, with Weston being named the MVP of the state tournament. Ray Snelling also was named honorable mention All-State. “Winning the state title was certainly quite an achievement,” said Harding. “Those kind of high points in one’s career are always hard to explain. I’m still extremely proud of those young men. They are the ones that did it.”

  Once again, the Jolly Green Giants lost a lot of talent to graduation following the state championship season, but simply reloaded for another state tournament run in 1965-66. However, the Vikings would have to navigate the title defense without their trusty leader. Coach Harding left Parkview following the 1964-65 season to become the men’s head basketball coach at Drury University.

  The number of former Jolly Green Giants who made the decision to follow Harding to Drury after their prep careers serves as a testament to Harding’s impact as a coach and as a man. “Coach Harding was the reason we made the choice we did,” said Gail Fredrick of his decision to play collegiately at Drury. “We knew he would have a good program.” Drury effectively became Parkview North, as no less than 10 former Jolly Green Giants also became Drury Panthers under the coaching of Bill Harding. “I used to wonder how they could put up with me,” said Harding. “We had a bond as players and coaches. I demanded a lot out of those young men. My philosophy was, when you left, I didn’t want anyone saying, ‘I wish he would have pushed me more.’ I cared so much about those boys as players and as individuals. In spite of my shortcomings, I think they cared for me, too.”

  Harding was replaced by Bob Brown, who would amass 367 victories at Parkview from 1965-86, on his way to a Hall of Fame coaching career. The Jolly Green Giants ran the table in the regular season and, coupled with the 23-game winning streak to end the 1964-65 season, entered the Regional round of the 1965-66 state playoffs riding a 46-game winning streak. The unbeaten regular season, which once again included Ozark Conference, Tournament of Champions and Blue & Gold Tournament titles, remains the only undefeated boys basketball regular season by a Springfield R-12 school.

  In the Regional round, Parkview survived a scare by Joplin, escaping to the Sectional round with a 56-55 victory at McDonald Arena. The Vikings knocked off Glendale 48-41 in Sectional action, and survived another scare by Mexico in the state quarterfinals, winning 64-62 to make yet another trip to St. Louis for the Final Four.

  In the state semifinals at Kiel Auditorium, the Jolly Green Giants dominated St. Louis Lindbergh by a score of 76-44, and carried a 50-game winning streak into the state championship game against Kansas City Central, a team the Vikings had already beaten by 21 points earlier in the regular season. However, Central ended the Vikings’ winning streak at 50 games and, more importantly, denied Parkview a second-straight state championship with a stunning 52-48 upset.

  “We went into the game way overconfident,” said Virgle Fredrick, who was named 1st-team All-State that season. “We were a team that ran a full court press and played tough, pressure defense. We didn’t start the game in the full court press, though. You think in retrospect…who knows? The bottom line is we didn’t play up to our potential. We expected to win every night, and not being able to complete the deal left a bittersweet taste.” Steve Hutchinson and Ray Snelling joined Fredrick on the All-State team, with both receiving honorable mention honors.

  Although Parkview would win back-to-back Regional titles in 1967-68, the Vikings lost in Sectional play both seasons. In fact, Parkview has only advanced to the state quarterfinals three times since the days of the Jolly Green Giants, and have only reached the Final Four once, finishing in third-place at the end of the 1980-81 season. The three-year run by the Jolly Green Giants, which included a record of 81-4, a state championship and two state runner-up finishes, leaves some wondering how those teams would fare in today’s game.

  “I’m asked that question a lot,” said Virgle Fredrick. “Athletes today are bigger and stronger. We were unusually tall throughout the line-up, though, and we played with a lot of heart. If we were playing in today’s game, we would do whatever it took to be a winner. To compare teams from different generations is impossible, but one thing that is consistent with winning teams is that they play with a lot of heart and intensity. I think we would hold our own in today’s game.”

  Harding has no doubt that the Jolly Green Giants could compete—and be successful—in today’s game. “It wouldn’t matter,” he said of his Parkview teams. “They could play any way you want to play, because they were so fundamentally sound. They could play slow, or play fast. They were tough inside, too. Anyone could play any position. We didn’t have any positions. It was just five interchangeable men who could play anywhere on the floor. It would take a pretty good team to do anything with them.”

  Although 44 years have passed since the 1966 state championship game ended, signaling the end of the three-year Jolly Green Giant era, those teams are gone but certainly not forgotten. “It’s not unusual to be out somewhere in Springfield and have someone mention the Jolly Green Giants,” said Gail Fredrick. “It’s really kind of a neat feeling to think that people still remember the Jolly Green Giants.” O’Reilly regularly encounters nostalgic fans when he attends events like the Blue & Gold Tournament or college games. “It is not surprising to run into someone in their 50s or 60s who remembers us,” he said. “We were thought of highly, I guess.”

  When Virgle Fredrick returns home to Springfield, he also frequently gets asked about his high school basketball days. “Every time I go back home, I see people who were a part of that experience,” he said. “Almost always, someone will mention the Jolly Green Giants. It’s humbling and gratifying at the same time. It was a great experience.”

  Great, indeed.

  Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.

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